April 3, 2018

Dear friends,

For a while there, all my buddies were longing for Greek lemon and egg soup. It was like a virus that was going around. I didn’t catch the bug until much later. A year went by before I felt the urge to make the soup. What else was I going to do with the sack of lemons in my fridge?

The soup was a revelation. I had no idea it was so lemony and creamy. I may have had avgolemono — Greek lemon-egg soup — once long ago at Gus’s on Tallmadge Avenue in Akron, but the memory is dim. The soup I made recently was either way better or prepared in a different style. Probably both, because I think I would have remembered something this good.

This classic soup can be made with rice, bulgur or orzo pasta, or with rice served on the side. The lemon juice must be fresh, but many recipes start with canned chicken broth instead of homemade. The surprise for me was that the eggs are added not in ribbons, as with egg drop soup, but are slowly tempered so they enrich and thicken the broth without leaving so much as a trace.

The recipe I found and followed in “The Good Egg” by Marie Simmons starts with a whole frying chicken slow-simmered to produce a broth, which is then stocked with the cooked, shredded meat along with rice, fresh lemon juice and eggs. It’s just the thing for a drizzly spring day.

AVGOLEMONO SOUP

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1 whole chicken (3 to 4 lbs.), rinsed in salted water and drained
10 cups cold water
1 large onion, unpeeled, studded with 2 whole cloves
Kosher salt
1 cup long-grain white rice
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice
Fresh-ground black pepper

In a large pot, combine the chicken, water and onion and bring to a simmer. Skim off and discard the foam. Add salt to taste and simmer, covered, until the chicken is falling off the bones, 2 to 3 hours.

Remove from the heat and, using 2 large spoons, transfer the chicken to a platter to cool slightly. Remove and discard the onion from the broth.

Remove the meat from the chicken and shred or chop and return it to the pot, discarding the skin and bones. Taste the broth and add salt if needed. Stir in the rice and simmer uncovered until tender, about 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and lemon juice until frothy. Slowly ladle in about 1 cup of the hot broth, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling. Turn off the heat under the pot and slowly whisk the egg mixture into the soup.

Serve the soup immediately . Pass the pepper mill at the table. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: I continued to cook the soup without simmering for several minutes after adding the eggs. The recipe is from “The Good Egg” by Marie Simmons.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Fried corn meal mush sprinkled with Splenda, fried German bologna; stuffed cabbage soup; Japanese Genghis Khan — marinated and grilled thin-sliced lamb with sautéed onions and carrots over rice; sugar-free brownies.

What I ate in and from restaurants last week:
Cuban sandwich, salad with mozzarella and strawberries at Pub Bricco on Merriman Road in Akron; crispy spring roll, red curry noodles soup with beef at Thai Pattaya in the Portage Lakes; wontons in spicy sauce, scallion pancakes at Szechuan Gourmet in Cleveland; poutine with pulled pork at The Merchant Tavern on Merriman Road in Akron; a thin-crust veggie pizza from Earth Fare.

TIDBITS
This is a tale of two Asian restaurants, one meh and one potentially great. Szechuan Gourmet next to Tink Hol Asian grocery store in Cleveland has been lauded by several diners whose palates I trust. Thai Pattaya in Akron’s Portage Lakes area also has fans but is such a sleeper that some readers thought it had closed.

Guess which one I loved?

I tried to love Szechuan Gourmet when Tony and I visited last week on a sliced-lamb run to Park To Shop, another Asian grocery store near Tink Hol. Do not confuse the awful Szechuan Cafe next to Park to Shop with the Tink Hol Szechuan restaurant, which is much better. Still, the latter, which I had visited once before and thought lackluster, again failed to impress.

It wasn’t awful, but the six small pork wontons in spicy sauce I ordered were smushed together in a cereal bowl with a mere spoonful or so of sauce (itself nothing special), and a $14 octopus stir fry was served in a Pyrex pie plate. The baby octopuses were plentiful but the kitchen forgot (or didn’t know) to remove their beaks. Add in careless, neglectful service and it adds up to a disappointing meal.

Am I not ordering the right dishes? Visiting on off days? Whatever the answer, the spicy wontons a friend recommended couldn’t hold a candle to the ones I had at House of Hunan in Fairlawn.

In contrast, Tony and I visited Thai Pattaya with modest expectations a couple of days later and were blown away. I have been daydreaming about their luscious Red Curry Noodles Soup with beef ever since. The broth was stunning — gingery, maybe a hint of coconut, notes of lime and, of course, red curry paste. The soulful soup was stocked with round wheat noodles, chunks of roast beef caramelized on the edges and bamboo shoots. A platter of bean sprouts, julienned carrots and radish, sprigs of cilantro and lime wedges was served alongside, to add to the soup according to taste.

The restaurant is spacious and clean, and the service the evening we visited was attentive. I don’t know how the service would hold up during a rush because we arrived late and were the only customers. I can’t wait to return.

Thai Pattaya is at 497 Portage Lakes Drive in Coventry Township. The hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. The phone is 330-644-8363.

THE MAILBAG

From Carol:
Because of your comment a couple of weeks ago, I’m wondering what the difference is between Thai and Vietnamese pho.

Dear Carol:
I wrote that we would have to make do with Thai “pho” until a Vietnamese restaurant opens in the area. Pho is Vietnamese, not Thai. Some Thai and Chinese restaurants offer a noodle soup they call “pho” because the soup is very popular and they want the business, just as many Chinese, Thai and even American restaurants sell a bastardized form of sushi because sushi is all the rage. And everyone, it seems, has a pretend-Thai dish on the menu.

Although the faux sushi irks me the most because my husband is an itamae (sushi master) and I know the difference between salted raw and plain raw salmon, and vinegar-splashed air-dried rice and plain steamed rice, and properly trimmed tuna and tuna with the black streak intact, and a cheap sushi roll with a thick ring of rice and a well-made sushi roll with a fair portion of expensive seafood….well, I could go on and on. Sorry for the rant.

Anyway, a wise critic once told me that she judges restaurants not by how authentic they are but by how good the food tastes. That makes sense to me, too. So Thai “pho” could be delicious. (But not, I think, faux sushi.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March 27, 2018

Dear friends,

I do not dye eggs and decorate my home with china bunnies. I say that with regret. I admire the zest of elderly women in senior apartments who put spring wreaths on their doors and whip up a celebration, no matter how small. I wish I could join them but I can’t.

I’m not world-weary; I’m simply incapable of summoning enthusiasm for a spring fete that does not include chocolate. No chocolate bunnies. No chocolate-marshmallow eggs. No Cadbury eggs with caramel centers. No sugar, period.

Ah, well. If I can’t have chocolate I’ll say it with biscuits. I found a recipe for biscuits that are so tall and fluffy they’re almost cause for celebration themselves. If you plan to have friends and relatives over for Easter dinner, these biscuits will make your day. They rise to ridiculous heights in tender layers that puff upward like an accordion.

I found the recipe in my friend Kathleen Purvis’ blog, I’ll Bite (www.charlotteobserver.com/living/food-drink/ill-bite-blog). A few years ago a reader sent her a photo of the biscuits she perfected, and Kathi nailed down the recipe and technique. When I made the biscuits Sunday, I added a clarification or two to the recipe to help ensure consistent results.

The biscuits employ cold butter and a folding technique similar to that of puff pastry. The cold butter is grated into self-rising flour, enough buttermilk is added to produce a dough, and the dough is rolled and folded six times. The folding and rolling distributes the butter through the flour in layers that become air pockets when the butter melts in the oven. Ta da! — tall, flaky biscuits.

The butter must not melt before the biscuits go into the oven, so everything — flour, rolling pin, bowl, grater — is refrigerated before using. The butter itself is frozen.

You’ll need a 2 to 3-inch biscuit cutter or glass with a thin rim of the same circumference. Don’t twist the cutter into the dough or the biscuits won’t rise properly; press the cutter straight down.

I am munching a biscuit as I write this. It isn’t chocolate and I’m not belting out “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” but for a biscuit it’s pretty good.

TALL FLAKY BISCUITS

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1/2 cup (1 stick) frozen butter
2 1/2 cups self-rising flour, preferably White Lily, plus more for dusting work surface
1 cup buttermilk
1 to 2 tbsp. salted butter

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Place butter in freezer. Place flour in a mixing bowl and the mixing bowl in the freezer. Chill a rolling pin (preferably marble) and a box grater.

When the butter is frozen, grate it with the large holes of a box grater into the bowl of chilled flour, tossing with flour every few minutes.

Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the buttermilk. Starting slowly with a wooden spoon, toss flour from the edge into the pool of buttermilk, then continue gently mixing until all the buttermilk is mixed in. All of the flour should be moistened enough to stick together. If not, gently stir in enough milk to produce a soft dough. Do not mix more than necessary. Place in the freezer to rest for 10 minutes.

Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface. Pat and press the dough gently to form a mound. Using a cold, floured rolling pin, roll in one direction to flatten slightly, then fold the dough in thirds like an envelope and make a quarter turn. Repeat five times to form a rectangle of dough that’s about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.

Using a round biscuit cutter dipped in flour, press straight down without twisting. Place the biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet slightly touching. Pull the scraps together, reroll and continue cutting out biscuits until you have 12.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Watch carefully so the biscuits don’t burn. Remove from oven and immediately brush with melted salted butter. Serve warm.

Yield: 12 biscuits.

Note: Biscuits are best when eaten fresh from the oven.

 

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Greek lemon-egg soup; chicken salad with dried cherries and pecans; tall, flaky biscuits; pan-grilled sockeye salmon with lemon-cilantro sauce, fried potato nuggets, asparagus with butter.

What I ate last week in and from restaurants:
Bacon and egg on English muffin at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; salmon roe on sushi rice from Sushi Katsu in Akron; sloppy Joe at Mrs. J’s Restaurant in Orrville; fried lake perch, coleslaw (with horseradish, I think), a bite of mac and cheese, oven-fried potatoes at St. Thomas Eastern Orthodox Church in Copley (catered by Totally Cooked); a hamburger and onion rings from Hamburger Station.

THE MAILBAG  

From Mike:
After last week’s post, we found out that Southern Gardens is actually still open. They did away with the weird Southern food portion of the menu, kept the Asian and the spot is called Thai Pattaya. Same great Asian dishes including, of course, the pho. We went there last Friday. It was busy. I tried the red curry soup for a change and it was great, too.

Dear Mike:
Thank you and also Sally O. who notes the restaurant is alive and thriving at 497 Portage Lakes Drive in Coventry Twp.

The website is thai-pattaya-restaurant.business.site.

From Rachel:
Tell me more about sweet soy sauce for your lemon fettuccine and shrimp recipe. I use regular ol’ Kikkoman for most of my soy-based marinades; would it work here? What if I’m trying to cut sugars wherever possible? And would you recommend fresh or dried pasta for this one?

Dear Rachel:
Sweet soy sauce, called exactly that in Asian stores, is thick and sweet. It makes a nice glaze for grilled meats and vegetables. In this case, you could substitute regular soy sauce without much flavor difference. I used the sweet because it helps the coating to caramelize on the shrimp in the pan. I used fresh pasta for the recipe; either fresh or dried will work fine.

March 20, 2018

Dear friends,

I have been hungry for lemons ever since I swiped one last month from under a lemon tree beside a gas station in Florida. I thought the fruit was a lime when I tossed it into the door pocket of our pickup for the trip home. It gradually ripened to a soft yellow and then a dark yellow. When I cut into it, the deep yellow interior and sweet taste told me it was a Meyer lemon. I ate it unadorned, right from the rind.

Meyer lemons are all the rage and in season right now but I prefer regular old puckery lemons for cooking. They have a more pronounced lemon flavor than Meyers, which are thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin.

I had a yen for lemon bars and lemon cake and lemon mousse last week but because I’m avoiding sugar, I channeled the urge into a savory dish. Tony and I dreamed it up together in the car and I jotted down the ingredients on an envelope in my purse — lemony fettuccine with chili-rubbed shrimp, crushed peanuts and cilantro. All I had to do was fill in the details when we got home.

I marinated fat shrimp in a rub of Szechuan chili oil and soy sauce, and started the pasta sauce while the pasta water heated. Tony crushed the peanuts, chopped the onions and minced the cilantro while I skewered and pan-grilled the shrimp, finished the sauce and boiled the pasta.

The dish tasted just as I imagined — the slippery, lemony pasta a counterpoint to the spicy, rich shrimp. It put me in such a good mood I didn’t even grouse when Tony dumped tons more chili oil on his pasta to spice it up. His boorish tastebuds, I decided, are not my problem.

LEMON FETTUCCINE WITH CHILI-RUBBED SHRIMP

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For the shrimp:

1 lb. large raw shrimp
1 tbsp sweet soy sauce
1 tbsp. Szechuan chili oil
8 6-inch wooden skewers
2 tbsp. vegetable oil

For the pasta:

3 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 quarter-size pieces of fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup seafood stock or broth
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Grated zest of 2 medium lemons
8 tbsp. cold butter, in small pieces
2 chopped scallions, green part only
1/3 cup chopped peanuts
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

For the shrimp:
Peel and place in a zipper-lock plastic bag with the sweet soy sauce and Szechuan chili oil. Close tightly and rub the shrimp with the marinade to cover completely. Refrigerate until needed. Soak skewers in water.

For the pasta:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta and add about a tablespoon of salt. Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the three tablespoons oil and when hot, add the ginger, pressing and turning to flavor the oil. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds. Add the seafood broth, increase heat to high and simmer until reduced to about 2 cups. Add the lemon and lemon zest. Set aside.

Thread shrimp on skewers. Heat the 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet or grill pan. Cook the shrimp just until done.

While the shrimp cooks, place pasta in the boiling, salted water. Cook until al dente. While the pasta cooks, place lemon-broth over medium heat and when warm, begin whisking in the butter, a small piece at a time. Continue until all butter has been used.

When pasta is done, drain and return to empty pot. Shake over low heat to remove remaining moisture. Pour sauce over pasta and gently toss. Transfer pasta to four dinner plates or shallow pasta bowls. Scatter chopped green onions over pasta. Place shrimp skewers on pasta. Garnish with chopped peanuts and cilantro. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:

Colorado sloppers (open-faced hamburgers on bun halves, topped with Colorado green chili and melted cheese); Cuban pork roast slow-cooked with criollo mojo marinade and green olives, with black beans and rice; lemon fettuccine with chili-spiced shrimp; Cuban pork, olive and avocado sandwich; pan-grilled strip steaks, oven-roasted cubed potatoes, cauliflower and red bell pepper with olive oil and herbes de Provence.

What I ate in restaurants last week:

Hummus with pita bread and Mediterranean pizza at Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; a cheeseburger from Wendy’s; a spicy California roll and mini shrimp tempura donburi (two battered, deep-fried shrimp in a bowl of rice with teriyaki sauce) at Tensuke Express next to Tensuke Market in Columbus; two eggs over easy and grits at Eli’s Kitchen in Medina.

THE MAILBAG

From Mike:
We really liked the pho at Southern Gardens. The closing is sad. We also like the pho at Taste of Bangkok on East Exchange Street in the Akron U area. It looks like a hole in the wall from the outside but is actually nice inside. And it will save you the trip to Cleveland when you don’t feel like driving so far.

From Jill:
Carol B., my first pho was at Southern Gardens in Portage Lakes, too. Sorry to hear it didn’t make it. But fear not. Lemongrass in Munroe Falls is everything you would want from amazing Thai food to the best soup on the planet. Everything there is completely addictive and the service is really good there as well. I highly recommend it.
There is also Papaya Salad in Cuyahoga Falls. They do a very good job, too. Hope this helps.

Dear Jill and Mike:
Thanks for the recommendations. I guess we’ll have to make do with Thai “pho” until a Vietnamese restaurant opens in our area.

From Marty L.:
The next time you need to get mayo, pick up a jar of Duke’s mayonnaise. I tried it while visiting my daughter, Jen, in the South. It is so good that I pack some to bring home every time I visit. But now I found out that both Acme and Walmart are stocking it, so I will have a ready supply. Try it in your egg salad next time and you will notice the difference.

Dear Marty:
Y’all switched to Southern mayo? I’ve tried both Duke’s and Hellman’s (known as Best Foods Mayonnaise in some areas of the West) and have preferred Hellman’s for years. But now I can’t remember what Duke’s tastes like so I’ll try it again on your recommendation. Sometimes a senior moment is a good thing.

 

March 13, 2018

Dear friends,

Out of the blue, Tony whipped up an appetizer last week of cold, juicy cylinders of spinach draped with a rich sesame sauce that tasted like sophisticated peanut butter. Where did that come from? And why has he been hiding it from me for the 12 years I’ve known him?

“Hatsuhana,” Tony said. “I learned to make it when I worked at their sushi bar in New York City.”

Well, it’s about time Tony dragged those recipes out of his memory. He was recruited by the chain of very upscale U.S. sushi bars when he was a young hotshot sushi chef in Tokyo (he won a city-wide contest for making sushi the fastest with the fewest mistakes.) Tony was brought first to Hawaii, then New York, then Chicago to work in Hatsuhana restaurants before he struck out on his own.

After visiting the New York location with Tony, I wondered whether any of the luxe recipes were lodged in his memory banks. Finally the wonderful spinach rolls surfaced. Are there more recipes screaming to get out? Only time will tell. Tony will not be hurried.

Last week I convinced Tony to make the spinach rolls again. I stood at his elbow measuring each ingredient and jotting notes about his spinach-rolling technique. The man is infuriating when he cooks. He shares knowledge grudgingly. We usually argue “like the chefs on ‘Top Chef’ during restaurant wars,” he says. Two cooks are not meant to share a kitchen, he believes. I say he is just contrary and bossy.

Anyway, I got the recipe. It is so terrific and so simple. Spinach leaves are cooked briefly in boiling water, refreshed with cold water and gently squeezed into a cylinder that is about 1 inch in diameter. Squeezing too tightly will cause the spinach “rope” to fall apart. Squeezing not enough will result in watery rolls and they, too, will fall apart.

The spinach rope is wrapped snugly in plastic wrap and refrigerated. After a while (“when it’s ready,” is Tony’s unhelpful instruction), the spinach roll is placed on a cutting board and sliced into about 1 1/2-inch lengths. The pieces are arranged on end, on little plates, and the sauce is spooned over.

Tony makes the sauce with toasted sesame seeds that he crushes to a powder with a pestle and mortar. Sorry, but a blender won’t do the job. If you lack the tool, check out the inexpensive ones sold in Asian food stores.

Sugar, sesame oil, white miso and soy sauce are added to the crushed seeds. The sauce is thinned with water. The sauce in my photo is a bit thick. The next time Tony made it, he thinned the sauce until it flowed easily from a spoon.

Minus the mortar and pestle chore, this dish is ridiculously easy to make. It would be an elegant, refreshing appetizer for a spring or summer gathering.

OSHITASHI (Spinach rolls with sesame sauce)

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10 oz. spinach leaves (approximately)
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp. toasted white sesame seeds
2 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup white miso paste
2 tbsp. soy sauce
Pinch of salt
Water to thin
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Steam or boil spinach just until wilted and stems are tender. Drain and place in a pot or big bowl with very cold water. When the color brightens and the leaves are cool, drain in a mesh strainer. Do not press at this point.

Gather the wet spinach leaves in your hands and begin gently pressing while elongating the pressed leaves into a rope about 1 inch in diameter. Do this by gently squeezing handfuls of leaves in a downward motion, as if you are milking a cow. Some moisture will remain in the spinach. Squeeze out just enough water so that the rope holds together.

Place the spinach rope on a piece of plastic wrap slightly longer than the rope. Wrap it tightly but do not squeeze it. Tuck the ends of the plastic wrap under to seal. Refrigerate, being careful not to bend the rope.

While the spinach chills, grind the sesame seeds to a powder with a mortar and pestle, in batches if necessary. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sugar, sesame oil, miso and salt. Continue stirring until smooth. Stir in enough water to make a thick dressing that flows off a spoon.

Place the plastic-wrapped spinach on a cutting board. Without unwrapping, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Unwrap each piece and group three pieces, standing on ends, on a plate or in a small bowl. Drape with some of the sesame dressing. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

GUT CHECK

 What I cooked last week:
Thai potato and spinach soup with coconut milk; chocolate pudding; fusilli lasagne; chicken salad with dried cranberries and pecans; stubby Italian sausages from West Side Market roasted with chunks of kabocha squash and cauliflower; Cuban bread; pan-grilled steak with roast sweet and red potatoes, grape tomatoes, green beans and feta cheese with olive oil and herbes de Provence.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Half of a steak and arugula sandwich and a cup of tomato soup at Panera Bread; cafe con leche, a Cuban sandwich and fried ripe plantains at Sabor Miami Cafe in Cleveland; a fish sandwich minus the bun and some cottage cheese at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth.

 TIDBIT
The Sabor Miami Cafe, a comfy, homespun restaurant hidden in a small shopping strip in Old Brooklyn, was plenty good enough to satisfy my itch for Cuban food. I give my Cuban sandwich a B plus. The people who cook, take your order and ring up sales get an A plus in warmth and hospitality. Combined, that should be enough to make the place a big hit. Too bad it’s so hard to find.

When Tony and I visited, the sign was propped up on the ground, hidden behind parked cars. If not for the pastel stripes running like piano keys across the top of the building, which I associated with deco Miami Beach, we would have given up and returned home.

That would have been a shame. The rich cafe con leche, served in big mugs, is reason enough to drive up and down Broadview Road a half-dozen times searching for the cafe. We sipped and surveyed the funky decor while waiting for my Cuban sandwich and Tony’s palomilla steak sandwich to arrive. There was a lot to look at, from the mismatched tables and chairs to the burlap coffee bags doubling as art, to rustic portraits of Frida Kahlo to a 3 1/2-foot-tall plush pink flamingo posed in a rattan chair. Half the room is given over to thrift-shop wares. Is the stuff for sale? Who knows.

My pressed Cuban sandwich, on real Cuban bread, was about 8 inches of deeply marinated chopped pork, Swiss cheese, ham, mustard, mayo and, oddly, sweet pickles instead of dill. It was almost perfect, and plenty big enough for two meals. I also bought a fabulous beef and potato empanada for later. Tony loved his sandwich of shredded, marinated steak topped with lettuce and fried potato sticks. He also had serviceable black beans and yellow rice and we shared some maduros — fried sweet plantains. All of the food is made by owner Mariela Paz, who is from Nicaragua but lived in Miami, where she came to love Cuban food.

As good as the food was, the information we gleaned was the lagniappe. The bread, we learned, comes from Caribe Bake Shop, which sells the heavenly stuff — along with Cuban sandwiches and a range of eat-in and takeout Caribbean foods — at 2906 Fulton Rd. in Cleveland. Can’t wait to visit.

Sabor Miami Cafe is at 4848 Broadview Rd. in the Old Brooklyn area of Cleveland. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch. The phone is 440-714-0202.

THE MAILBAG

From Jan S.:
I have made egg salad for many years and never had a problem with it the next day until about two years ago. I use Miracle Whip and sweet pickle relish. That’s it; no salt, no pepper. It is fine when I make it and use it immediately, but if it sits in the fridge, the next day it is runny. Any idea as to why this is happening?

Dear Jan:
Interesting! This happened to me two weeks ago. For the first time in 30-some years I used Miracle Whip that Tony had bought. I was tempted to blame that product until I read about similar complaints from those who used light mayonnaise.

So-called experts on the Internet blame watery additions such as celery and onions, undrained relish, or smashing the eggs too finely. I don’t buy any of that. I don’t use celery, onions or relish, and those who do had no problem for years and years. I think the culprit is fat. Low-fat mayo turns runny. After some digging, I learned that Miracle Whip was de-fatted in 2006 when some of the soy oil was replaced with water in a move to economize on ingredients. It, too, is now low-fat. To avoid runny next-day egg, chicken and potato salads, stick with full-fat mayonnaise.

From Randy:
You have mentioned several times Tony’s ramen noodles. Does he use the ramen that is sold in bricks everywhere or is there a fresh or frozen noodle that is superior? Thanks so much. I so enjoy your blog.

Dear Randy:
Thanks. Tony uses both dried and frozen ramen. I was surprised to see in Japan that those bricks with the seasoning packet are widely used there, too (not in restaurants but at home as snacks). Many brands of frozen ramen come with the seasoning packet, too.

Tony’s favorite brand of dried ramen is Maruchan, either in the block or bowl. He prefers chicken or beef flavors. He adds a splash of soy sauce, whatever meat is left over in the refrigerator, green onions if we have them, and usually cracks a beaten egg into the simmering soup. He does not like my homemade ramen broth, laboriously made with pounds of pork bones, so I don’t know if you want to trust his judgment.

From Carol B.:
I am so disappointed that Southern Gardens in Portage Lakes has closed. They had the best pho that I’ve ever tasted. Do you know of any restaurants in this area that are known for this dish? Also, do you know whether the former owner plans to open another restaurant?

Dear Carol:
I’m sorry I didn’t visit Southern Gardens before it closed. I heard good things about it. I think the owner sold the restaurant to her niece and the niece apparently couldn’t make a go of it.

I have not heard that the family opened elsewhere. When we’re in the mood for pho, Tony and I go to Pho Hoa or Superior Pho in Cleveland. Any other recommendations?

From Beth B.:
Regarding poaching (last week’s newsletter), here is how i always poach chicken, a lazy technique that has resulted in perfection every time I’ve done it:

For 1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, skin and bones removed (about 3 large breasts), bring 2 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Add the chicken, cover and turn off the heat. Let stand for 2 hours. The chicken will be moist and just done.

The technique is from “Summer on a Plate” by the late Anna Pump, who had the Loaves & Fishes store in the Hamptons. I love this cookbook, not just for the name of it, but because every recipe I’ve tried has been delicious.

Dear Beth:
What a no-brainer way to poach chicken! I’ll try it the next time I need some juicy chicken for a recipe.

From Janet C.:
I was hunting something different, but easy and quick, to make for a St. Patrick’s Day treat to take to friends. My dearest Aunt Bobby, who died in December, made these many years ago:

OREO TREATS
Coating chocolate (I use half milk, half dark melted together)
1 or 2 packages of Oreos (I prefer Oreo thins. The mint variety would be good for St. Pat’s.)
Peanut butter

Melt the coating chocolate. I used the low setting of my slow cooker and it worked perfectly. Open each sandwich cookie and spread with peanut butter. Put the cookies together again and chill for several hours. Using 1 or 2 forks, dip each cookie in the chocolate. Shake off excess and set to cool on a rack over waxed paper to catch the drips. Decorate with green sprinkles if desired. Store in refrigerator or a cool place.

Dear Janet:
Thanks for sharing your aunt’s recipe. I bet your friends love you.

 

 

March 6, 2018

Dear friends,

When Giuliana Rancic bit into that chocolate Oscar and the passionfruit filling dribbled down her dress, I had serious food envy. She was interviewing chef Wolfgang Puck Sunday on E! before the Oscars. Later at the Governor’s Ball he would offer the stars Waygu beef sliders, truffled mac and cheese, lobster corn dogs, baby potatoes with caviar, gold-dusted popcorn and those chocolate-passionfruit Oscars.

Poor me. Here I was in my cozy pajamas with a fluffy dog, a handsome man and a big salad of spinach, toasted coconut, cashews, poached chicken, quinoa, raisins and a creamy curried yogurt dressing. Wait a minute. Maybe Giuliana should be envying me.

I made the big salad for our annual Oscar watch, which is exciting only to me and possibly our dog Oscar, who was named while we watched the awards show 10 years ago. The salad provided all the excitement for Tony. While photographing it in the kitchen, I wondered whether it would serve three or four. Tony gave me the answer after I scooped about a fourth of the salad into a bowl for myself. He grabbed a fork and carried the salad that was left, in its serving bowl, to the living room where we were camped out.

Shoot, no leftovers.

The salad was as good as I remembered, and the creamy curry dressing was, too. I first tasted it last month in Florida, where it was a carryout special in a supermarket deli.  I jotted down the ingredients, arranged in swaths over a bed of spinach. The toasted coconut, nuts and curry dressing gave it an Indian vibe. The dressing was delicious. It just hinted at curry, and had fruity undertones I couldn’t nail down.

Luckily, I found several versions of yogurt curry dressing on the Internet. I bought a quart of plain yogurt to experiment with, but by luck cracked the recipe on the first try. Surprisingly, lemon juice is what provided the fruity note. I needn’t have opened the bottle of mango chutney I was going to puree for my second attempt.

I hope I don’t file and forget this salad recipe, as I do with many of my creations. I’m always thinking ahead, not behind. This salad, though, is too good to forget, and healthful enough that I’ll want to eat it year-round.

But I still want one of those chocolate Oscars.

MADRAS SALAD WITH CURRY YOGURT DRESSING

MADRAS SALAD WITH CURRY YOGURT DRESSING Jane Snow.jpeg

4 cups packed spinach leaves, any long stems removed
1 cup cubed rotisserie or poached chicken
1/2 cup cooked and cooled quinoa, seasoned with salt
1/2 cup roasted, salted cashews
1/2 cup toasted coconut
1/4 cup raisins
Curry yogurt dressing (recipe follows)

Wash spinach and roll in paper towels to dry. Arrange in the bottom of a wide, shallow serving bowl. Arrange chicken in an inch-wide strip down the center of the salad. Arrange quinoa, cashews, coconut and raisins in strips on either side of chicken. Pass the dressing at the table. Serves two to three.

CURRY YOGURT DRESSING

1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
2 tsp. honey
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
Water

Combine yogurt and mayonnaise and stir until smooth. Add curry powder, turmeric, honey, lemon juice and salt and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Taste and correct seasonings if necessary. Thin to pouring consistency with water. Makes about 1 cup.

HELP YOU COOK

Is poaching becoming a lost art? With the advent of rotisserie chicken and deli salmon, and the emphasis on pan-grilling and saucing, the classic French technique isn’t used much, at least at my house.

When shopping for my salad, I found chicken tenders on sale and no rotisserie chicken at the store I visited. So I bought the tenders and poached them. I had forgotten how tender and juicy poached chicken is.

To make basic poached chicken, place the chicken pieces (boneless or bone-in, with or without skin) in a pan large enough to fit the chicken in a single layer and deep enough to cover with water. Cover the chicken with cool water by about a half inch. Partially cover with lid and bring to a simmer. When the first bubbles break the surface, adjust the heat so the water barely simmers. A single bubble at a time should rise to the surface and lazily pop. Poach until the chicken is just cooked through, which will take less time for boneless than bone-in, and less for smaller pieces (thighs) than large (whole breasts). Generally, chicken pieces will be done in about 15 to 20 minutes.

Don’t throw away the poaching liquid. Drink it as a pick-me-up or freeze it to add to soups.

GUT CHECK

I haven’t kept up with my cooking/dining diary because I was tending to my ill cat, Mia, who died last week. Tony and I will miss her. Life has somewhat returned to normal, so I will be able to chronicle my eating habits next week. I like this feature because it compels me to try new restaurants. I hope you like it, too.

THE MAILBAG

From Joy:
Just a thought but I wonder if the citron spicy chili pork wontons you enjoyed at House of Hunan in Fairlawn might be the same as Dan Dan Pork Wontons but with a possible addition of yuzu kosha (citrus chili paste), which would explain the citrus taste you mentioned.

I have a cookbook, “Dumplings All Day Wong,” which has a recipe for Dan Dan Pork Wontons and the description in the book (and some of the ingredients) seems pretty close to the description on the House of Hunan website for their Spicy Chili Pork Wontons. Check out the book if you haven’t as yet, it’s a great cookbook.

Also, even though I’m sure you and Tony know this recipe in and out, here’s a link to a recipe for yuzu kosha (citrus chili paste) that you might want to give a go as it might be a nice addition to your next chili pork wonton cloning experiment: https://cookpad.com/us/recipes/172813-homemade-yuzu-kosho-citrus-chili-paste.

Dear Joy:
Your note struck a chord. When I had the wontons in the restaurant, the flavor immediately reminded me of dan dan noodles. I think that will be my departure point the next time I make the dish, and I will definitely add some of the yuzu kosha, which I had never heard of. Thanks for the link.

From Susan P.:
When I crave Asian food, I make the 30-minute drive to Cleveland’s Payne Avenue area. One of my favorite spots is Szechuan Gourmet next to Tink Hol grocery. The wonton in spicy sauce as well as the dan dan noodles are addictive.

I will definitely have to try House of Hunan’s and save myself the almost weekly trip to Cleveland. I’ll let you know how they compare…but do make the trip to Szechuan Gourmet if you haven’t already. They have an extensive menu of foods not available in this area.

One item I don’t see in your recipe is bits of actual Szechuan peppercorns. You might try toasting and then crushing some and adding them to your sauce. I think it gives a greater depth of flavor than just the chili oil.

Dear Susan:
I will return to Szechuan Gourmet now that I know the spicy dumplings are on the menu. Thanks for the tip about the peppercorns. I have a bag of them to use up.

From Dorothy G.:
The recipe for pork roast (last week’s newsletter) looks good, but I do not like rosemary at all. What could I use instead?

Dear Dorothy:
Sprigs of thyme would be a good substitute. Fresh sage leaves would work, also.

From Jan and Bob P., Tallmadge:
We’re excited to see the new Uzbek carryout place on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. We ate at an Uzbek restaurant called “Silk Road” while snow birding in the Ft. Myers area. It was delicious! You should try it next time you’re down that way.

Dear Jan and Bob:
I did get to the Ft. Myers area last trip. If I swing that way next January, I’ll search out Silk Road. Thanks — I love restaurant tips.

From Mitch:
In your newsletter you mentioned an African peanut soup. My wife used to love the one they served occasionally at West Side Bakery in Fairlawn (not sure if they still do). Anyway, can you hook me up with a good recipe for one?

Dear Mitch:
I couldn’t get the bakery’s recipe, but I found perhaps the next-best thing. The peanut soup recipe in the classic “Sunday’s at Moosewood” is one of the most popular recipes in the book, according to the Washington Post. It sounds delicious.

WEST AFRICAN PEANUT SOUP

1 tbsp. oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small celery rib, chopped
1/2 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
1 tbsp. peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp. Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, plus more to taste
12 oz. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups tomato juice, preferably low sodium
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro, plus more leaves for garnish
1 scallion, white and green parts, sliced thin, for garnish

Heat the oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion and celery with the salt until softened. Stir in the ginger and Tabasco. Add the sweet potatoes and water. Increase heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat so the liquid is barely bubbling around the edges. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the tomato juice and peanut butter. Use a stick immersion blender to create a creamy, pureed soup, or puree in batches in a blender. Stir in the chopped cilantro and warm through. Taste and add salt and/or hot sauce as needed.

Divide among bowls and top with the scallions and cilantro leaves. Serve hot. Makes        4 1/2 to 5 cups.

 

February 27, 2018

Dear friends,

Plunging prices of whole and half pork loins have meant lots of pork on my table. I have seen the uncut boneless loins selling for as little as $1.65 a pound this month. Who could resist tossing a couple in the cart? Well, lots of people. Specifically, those who are stumped about what to do with such a large hunk of meat.

I’m here to help. I have been buying whole boneless loins for several years, so I know a thing or two about big hunks of pork. Pork loins — basically, the meaty part of a pork chop — are very lean, so they should be cooked quickly or long and slowly. If you stop somewhere in the middle — say, 30 minutes for a chop — the meat will be chewy and dry.

So what do I do with all this meat? First I turn about half of the loin into boneless pork chops, slicing it 1- to 1 1/2-inches thick. I wrap the chops individually, then stash them in a gallon-size freezer bag in the freezer. I pull out three at a time to grill or pan-fry. Sometimes I bread them, but not usually. I season the chops with salt and pepper and brown them over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes on each side, then finish them in a 350-degree oven. Ten to 20 minutes, depending on thickness, will do it. Check the temperature by inserting an instant-read thermometer horizontally into the chop. It should read 145 degrees for pink or 155 degrees for cooked through but still juicy.

Some of the remaining meat is cut into strips for stir fry or cubes for fricassee or Tony’s beloved Japanese curry. I portion the stir-fry strips into small zipper-lock freezer bags, add about a tablespoon of soy sauce and squish it around to coat the meat before freezing. It’s instant marinade.

The rest I use as roasts — one or two, usually. I might cook one in a slow cooker with criollo mojo marinade for Cuban roast pork or in a Dutch oven on the range with Asian seasonings.

Or, I’ll stuff it and roast it as I did last fall with a cornbread-apple stuffing. I haven’t plain roasted a pork loin for a long time, but I did on Sunday after I found a recipe for Rosemary Roast Loin of Pork.

The pork loin roast is stabbed on each end with the blade of a sharp knife, and a sprig of rosemary is inserted deep into each slit. As the meat heats and cooks, the rosemary flavors the entire roast. Part way through cooking, Pinot Grigio or another fruity white wine is added with water to the roasting pan.

When my roast was done, I cut it into thick, glistening slices and spooned the luscious pan juices over them. Tony and I ate just half of our 2 pound roast, so we have plenty of leftovers this week for his ramen and my protein snacks.

The roast recipe seems so plain on paper that normally I would have ignored it, but it is from one of my trusted authors, Patricia Wells. It is from her 1993 book, “Trattoria.”

Wells calls for a 5-pound roast, which is too gigantic for Tony and me. Use your own judgement. I also replaced Wells’ fresh rosemary with sprigs of dried from the bush that died in my mud room while I was in Florida. I soaked the prickly sprigs in hot water until pliable, and they scented the roast beautifully.

I don’t have a rack small enough to fit into a pan that’s a sensible size for a 2-pound roast, so I crisscrossed the bottom of the pan with chopsticks and wooden skewers. My makeshift rack kept the roast off the bottom of the pan, while allowing some of the pan juices to gently lap it.

The flavor of this roast was out of proportion to the scant amount of ingredients and work required. The recipe is a keeper.

ROSEMARY ROAST LOIN OF PORK

Rosemary.Roast.Loin.of.Pork.Jane.Snow.jpeg

1 loin pork roast, 2 to 4 lbs., depending on number of diners (Wells specifies a 5-lb. bone-in roast, but boneless loins are the cut on sale)

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Sea salt, fresh-ground black pepper to taste

About 1 1/2 cups dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio (I used 1/2 cup)

About 1 1/2 cups water (I used 1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pat the roast dry with paper towels. With the point of a slender, sharp knife, pierce the centers of both ends of the roast and insert a sprig of rosemary in each slit. Season the roast generously with salt and pepper. Place fat side up on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Place in the center of the oven and roast until the skin is crackling and brown and the meat begins to exude fat and juices, about 30 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 325 degrees and base with any juices from the pan. Add about 1/2 cup wine and 1/2 cup water to the pan. Continue to add wine and water as needed, to maintain a thin layer of liquid in the pan at all times, and baste at 20-minute intervals. Roast the pork for about 25 minutes per pound for a bone-in roast or 15 minutes per pound for boneless, for slightly pink meat, or 20 minutes per pound for juicy but cooked- through. An instant-read thermometer should register about 145 degrees for pink and 155 degrees for cooked through. Let stand for 15 minutes — no longer — before cutting into thick slices.

Meanwhile skim the fat from the pan juices and simmer over moderate heat, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan. If necessary, add several tablespoons of cold water to deglaze the pan, and bring to a boil. Cook, scraping and stirring, until the liquid is almost caramelized, 2 to 3 minutes. Do not burn. Spoon off any fat. Pour into a sauce boat and pass at the table. A 2-pound boneless roast will serve 6 generously.

From “Patricia Wells’ Trattoria.”

TIDBIT

I would go to the ends of the earth to taste a new cuisine. Luckily, I didn’t have to; It came to me. Those who have yearned to taste Uzbek food — as in Uzbekistan, Tashkent, the Silk Road — now can satisfy their curiosity at a store-front carryout in Cuyahoga Falls.

Two high-top tables hug the front wall of the public space, leaving just enough room for a person to reach the order counter. It was staffed by a precocious pre-teen boy when I visited. He relayed my order to the kitchen, which is shielded from the customers by a drape.

The eight-item menu is on the wall with pictures, Uzbek names (in the Roman alphabet, not Cyrillic) and English explanations. The prices are ridiculously low. You could order the entire menu for $38. There’s Uzbek’s national dish, “Plov” — chunks of beef with rice and carrots, $7 — and the Uzbek snack, “Cheburek” — a deep-fried meat or potato turnover, just $2. I ordered the “Manti” (steamed beef-stuffed dumplings with unusual spices), $6, and a “Somsa” ($2), which looks and kind of tastes like a Lebanese meat turnover, with a lighter pastry and different seasonings. I wish I had picked up some Uzbek flat bread rounds, too. Next time.

Uzbek Cuisine is at 2457 State Road., next to the Falls Wheel & Wrench Bike Shop, in Cuyahoga Falls. The phone is 234-706-6664. The sign outside says “Authentic Middle Eastern Food,” but who are they kidding? The exotic food is from deep in Central Asia, and this little carryout may be your one chance to taste it.

THE MAILBAG

From Cheryl S.:
Regarding your post on wanting to grow bay laurel, Donzell’s in Akron stocks them in the greenhouse section where they sell the herbs, but they don’t stock many herbs until around Memorial Day.

Dear Cheryl:
I debated whether to share this juicy tip, but my better self won. I will be first in line. Thanks, Cheryl.

From Judy S., Scottsdale, Ariz.:
I saw a recipe for your Sichuan dumplings in chili oil, and the missing ingredient may be Chinkiang black vinegar. Good luck.

Dear Judy:
Possibly. I plan to buy some on my next Chinese-store run.

From Sue D., East Liverpool:
I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows on Public Television’s Create TV — one of the blessings of retirement. Given that the quality of ingredients logically ought to be a big factor in the results of your cooking efforts, how do you feel about using Louisiana gulf shrimp as opposed to shrimp imported from elsewhere? There was a lot of talk on one of the shows about the superior flavor and texture of Gulf shrimp. What’s your thinking on sourcing seafood?

Dear Judy:
Hands down, wild shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico is superior to all other shrimp I’ve tasted. I once compared Gulf and Asian shrimp in a taste test. No contest. Most of the shrimp sold in local stores is farmed, which I use sometimes because of the lower prices. It doesn’t have a lot of flavor, though, and the texture isn’t as firm as that of Gulf shrimp.

Yes, the source of seafood matters. So does how the seafood is handled after it is caught. The first thing to look for is wild-caught. Then, if you have access to the information, buy seafood that is frozen right on the boat. For scallops, “dry pack” is a useful descriptor. For fish, “line caught” is the ecologically sound way to go. The clerk behind the fish counter should be able to give you this information. Ideally, patronize a store that knows the provenance of its products, has a high turnover and handles the seafood carefully.

February 20, 2018

Dear friends,

I have not yet tried the Taiwanese pork belly buns or the honey-bacon shrimp with crushed peanuts. But I have tasted the spicy chili pork wontons in a citron sesame chili sauce, and that appetizer alone is enough to keep me coming back to House of Hunan in Fairlawn.

Some chefs get better with age, and that’s true of chef/owner Lawrence Suen, who keeps slipping luscious new items onto his list of seasonal specials. I loved the chili pork wontons so much that I had to have some the next day or I would burst, so I set about making them.

“Don’t ask me what’s in them because I don’t know,” Suen’s wife, Cheryl, had told me after dinner, so I brought home a couple of tablespoons of leftover sauce from the restaurant. I would clone it. Easier said than done.

The wonton dish, I learned, is actually an old Sichuan specialty. Why had I never heard of it? Maybe because the Akron area for decades was a Chinese-food wasteland, punctuated here and there with a few decent dishes from Chin’s and House of Hunan. And in my travels to larger cities, the spicy wontons had simply slipped through the cracks.

At its most basic, the dish consists of wonton wrappers stuffed with a seasoned ground pork mixture, gently boiled for 5 minutes or so, drained and served in shallow bowls in pools of a fiery Sichuan sauce.

I had no problem finding recipes, but I did have problems matching the exquisite flavor of Suen’s sauce. I could see sesame seeds, chopped garlic and finely diced green onion tops in his oily red broth. But what contributed that deep umami flavor that tempered the fire of the Sichuan chili oil?

I guessed sesame paste, available in Asian stores or as tamari in health-food stores and many regular supermarkets. I prepped the seasoned meat and the sauce a day in advance to allow the flavors to meld. Before dinner the next day, Tony helped me fill and fold the wontons in the shape of large tortellini. When the pasta was done and the meat filling cooked through, I drained the pouches and stirred one-third cup of the pasta water into the sauce.

Yeow, was it spicy! It was delicious, too, although not nearly as good as House of Hunan’s. I will keep tinkering with the recipe and eating the results of my experiments, with the occasional trip to House of Hunan to check my progress. Maybe I’ll never get it right, but I’ll have a great time trying.

I challenge you to try the dish at House of Hunan if you live in the area, then make my version at home and tell me what is missing. (The dish is surprisingly easy to prepare.) Together we can crack this mystery or, at the very least, have a couple of great meals.

FYI, I stepped down the heat in my recipe. If you like very hot foods, add more chili oil to taste.

SICHUAN SPICY WONTONS

Dumplings.jpeg

Sauce:

2 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. finely minced garlic
1 heaping tbsp. minced green onion, green part only
2 tbsp. Sichuan chili oil (available in Asian stores)
1 tbsp. sesame paste or tahini
1/3 cup wonton cooking water

In a small bowl combine all ingredients except the water. Mix very well to incorporate the sesame paste. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, bring to room temperature. After the wontons are done, stir 1/3 cup of the cooking water into the chili sauce. Spoon sauce over the wontons in individual serving bowls.

Wontons:

12 oz. ground pork
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
2 green onions, chopped
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. finely minced ginger
1 tbsp. sherry
32 wonton wrappers (most of a 12-oz. package)
1 egg white beaten with a fork with 1 teaspoon water
1/2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Combine pork, salt, sugar, onions, garlic, ginger and sherry. Mix well. If possible, refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to blend. The next day, bring to room temperature.

Place a wonton wrapper on a work surface. Place a mounded teaspoon of the pork mixture in the center the wrapper. With your fingertip, brush the edges of the wrapper with some of the beaten egg white. Bring two opposite points together and firmly seal the edges of the wonton to form a triangle. At either end of the long side of the triangle, bring those two points together at the bottom of the filling bulge and press together. Don’t encircle the filling in the middle; encircle it at the bottom, so the filling bulges upward. The result should resemble a tortellini. Continue with remaining wonton wrappers and filling. You should have about 32.

Bring at least 4 inches of water to a lazy boil in a wide pan. In batches, cook the wontons for 5 minutes, or until the pasta is done and the filling is no longer pink when you cut into a wonton. Remove with a long-handled strainer, transferring to shallow bowls. Place six wontons in each bowl for appetizers, or eight for entrees with steamed rice on the side.

Stir one-third cup of the wonton cooking water into the chili sauce, and spoon it over the wontons. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds. Makes 5 appetizers or 4 entrees.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Split pea and ham soup; meatloaf, baked Japanese sweet potatoes; Sichuan chili oil wontons.

What I ate in or from restaurants:
Cavatelli with meat sauce, crisp salad, Massoli’s bread at Dontino’s La Vita Gardens in Akron; a Jane Roll from Sushi Katsu in Akron; an egg roll, pork wontons in a spicy Sichuan chili oil sauce, and cold Singapore noodles with apples, cucumbers and steamed shrimp from House of Hunan in Fairlawn; a soulful lima bean and ham soup, clam and corn chowder and African peanut soup at a VFW Auxiliary soup fund-raiser in the Highland Square area of Akron.

MICROWAVE BREAD PUDDING!!

Here’s another recipe I developed for a book on microwave desserts. I found that bread pudding is a natural in the microwave. I experimented with different breads such as croissants, brioche and French but found plain supermarket white bread works best when the cooking time is short, as it is in a microwave.

In the following recipe, I paired acidic pineapple with sweet, soothing custard and tossed in pecan pieces for crunch. If you have time, toast the pecans in a dry skillet to amp up the flavor. Remember that the size and composition of the mug (I used a 12-oz. Fiesta pottery mug) will affect cooking time.

PINEAPPLE-PECAN MICROWAVE BREAD PUDDING

1 tbsp. cold butter
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. packed brown sugar
3 tbsp. milk
3 tbsp. well-drained crushed pineapple
1 egg white
1/4 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt
1 cup gently packed white sandwich bread in 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 1/4 slices)
1 tbsp. broken pecan pieces

Place butter in a 12-ounce pottery mug and microwave on high power until melted, about 20 seconds. Add milk, pineapple, egg white, vanilla and salt and beat with a fork until egg white is thoroughly incorporated. Add bread cubes and pecan pieces and press into the milk mixture, folding to distribute pecans evenly. Microwave on 50 percent power for 2 minutes, 30 seconds in a 1000-watt oven, or 2 minutes in a 1100- or 1200-watt oven, adjusting time up or down for lower- or higher-watt ovens.

The pudding is done when the top is set but still moist, and the sides of the pudding look set when a knife is inserted between the pudding and mug. Eat from the mug or, if desired, let stand 2 minutes, loosen edges with a knife and invert onto a plate. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Dress it up: Toast the pecan pieces in a dry skillet before folding into the pudding.

Even better: Sprinkle the warm pudding with 1/2 teaspoon dark rum and top with whipped cream and a pecan half.

THE MAILBAG

From Mary D., Rocky River:
The next time you and Tony head up to Cleveland, you can get your Cuban sandwich fix at Sabor Miami Cafe and Gallery on Broadview Road in Cleveland. The Facebook and Yelp reviews are excellent (I’ll have to try it myself). Cheers!

Dear Mary:
I had no idea! I see that the little restaurant opened in another location, refined its menu and moved last year to its current location at 4848 Broadview Rd. in the Old Brooklyn area of Cleveland. The owner is Honduran native Mariela Paz. She serves an eclectic menu of Cuban and Latin American dishes and breakfast comfort foods. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch only. The phone is 440-714-0202 or you can find Sabor Miami Cafe on Facebook. I’ll report back after I try the Cuban sandwich, which will be soon. Thanks, Mary.

 

February 14, 2018

Dear friends,

I’m back home in the cold and snow, watching the Olympics and warming myself with thoughts of all the great food I had in Florida. Yes, I ate too many Happy Meals in pursuit of wifi (Hurricane Irma destroyed our campground’s system). And I ate at places like Domino’s (yuk) and Golden Corral (not bad) because marriage is compromise. But I also had a lot of fine seafood and catered to my Cuban food obsession. Here are some highlights.

Best deal: Three pounds of just-harvested large stone crab claws for a measly $30 at a gas station in Everglades City. The charming little town is the self-described “World stone crab capital.” There’s so much crab that it’s even sold at gas stations. We missed the town’s seafood festival by one day, but had a festival of our own after toting the crab back to Okeechobee in a $7 Styrofoam cooler.

Best Cuban sandwich: Not Mervyn’s in Ft. Pierce, which somewhere along the line won the local title. Its Cubans are good but not great because they include salami and are relatively small. I want a sandwich with heft. I want to get two meals out of one.

The foot-long Cubans from El Cubanito’s in Ft. Pierce were just about perfect – crisp pressed Cuban bread, plenty of marinated roast pork, the traditional mustard and dill pickle chips along with ham and melted cheese. But the sandwich from Vicky Bakery in suburban Miami had all of that and a hint of creamy mayo, too. Later I made a clone that Tony said was even better that Vicky’s, but I doubt it. Here in the frozen North, I’m already planning to buy a pork roast and start making Cuban bread. I miss those sandwiches.

What I learned: Yuca is cassava is manioc. Same tuber, different names. I already knew the difference between yuca, a starchy vegetable that is eaten widely in the Caribbean, and yucca, an ornamental shrub. Before frying some up (or boiling, roasting or steaming it), you should know the difference, too.

Gator is still chewy, dammit. Tony, who claims he has cooked and served alligator steaks in his sushi bar, also claims that the alligator he got at festivals and in restaurants in Florida was tender and juicy. I say it was as dry and chewy as all the other alligator I’ve eaten over the years in the line of work.

I was happy, though, that Tony limited his alligator obsession to eating it. All month he wondered aloud whether a license was needed to hunt them. I finally realized he was serious. How would he kill one? Grab it and choke it, he said. What would he do with the carcass? Eat the tail and mount the head to hang on the wall, he said. Lord help us.

Best seafood meal:
Shrimp Tortuga at a casual beach restaurant, the Cottage, in Ft. Myers. Friends took us to the place, where we ate outdoors on a deck overlooking the ocean. The shrimp I ordered came with crusty bread to dip in the luscious sauce that was a flavor bomb of butter, garlic and lemon. Intense garlic and lemon. A friend and I couldn’t stop sopping up that sauce.

I tried to duplicate the dish back at the campground. I made a silky beurre blanc with wine, butter, lemon juice, garlic and a dash of hot sauce. It was delicious but not shrimp Tortuga. I tried again after I came home, and this time I got it right. The sauce is merely melted butter with lots of chopped garlic, lots of hot sauce and a dash of cream. Instead of lemon juice, I used grated lemon rind for a more intense lemon flavor. Bingo.

 

SHRIMP TORTUGA

 

Shrimp Tortuga

 

• 8 tbsp. butter
• 2 tbsp. minced garlic
• 1 to 2 tbsp. hot pepper sauce (Sriracha or Tabasco)
• 1 lb. large shrimp, peeled
• 1/4 cup dry white wine
• 1 tbsp. cream
• Finely grated zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons
• 2 tbsp. minced cilantro leaves

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook until softened but not starting to brown. Stir in hot pepper sauce. Increase heat to medium and sauté shrimp, stirring once or twice, just until no longer opaque. Remove shrimp from skillet and set aside.

Increase heat to medium-high and add wine. Simmer until reduced slightly. Stir in cream and remaining 6 tablespoons butter. Stir in lemon zest and cook for one minute. Taste sauce and add more hot sauce if desired. Return shrimp to pan and bathe in sauce. Divide among 2 to 4 plates and top with cilantro. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

GUT CHECKWhat I cooked last week:


Shrimp with garlic, butter, lemon and hot sauce.

What I ate in restaurants:
Pulled pork, smoked brisket, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes and a yeast roll at Golden Corral; fried hog snapper, french fries and coleslaw at Triad Seafood in Everglades City, Fla.; Cuban sandwich, plantain chips and yuca fries from Mervin’s Cafe in Ft. Pierce, Fla.; a chicken sandwich from KFC near Jacksonville, Fla. pepperoni pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley, Ohio; a quinoa and kale broth bowl with chicken and an apple at Panera Bread in Montrose.

TIDBIT

The Akron Recipe Project, a book in the making from retired Akron librarian Judy James, needs your help. The book will be about what people in Akron have been cooking for their families for generations. It will also be about the stories behind the recipes.

James is collecting the recipes and stories now, and hopes a few of you will share. The recipes need not be iconic Akron recipes – just recipes that are important to you and your families.

Submit recipes to Judy James at akronrecipeproject@gmail.com or contact Judy at 330-815-0775.

THE MAILBAG:

From Ellen M.:
The best wedding soup I ever had was at Yocono’s on West Exchange Street in Akron. I also liked their individual casseroles of penne pasta, meatballs, marinara sauce and cheese baked in the oven. Has anyone found a close second for either dish?

Dear Ellen:
I am sorry I missed those dishes when the restaurant was in business. I know Vaccaro’s Trattoria in Bath had excellent wedding soup the last time I tasted it. Hopefully we will hear from others who have suggestions for you. Anyone?

From Tammy Jo:
My husband has single-handedly stuffed our four (yes, four) freezers with an assortment of venison this season. I have made venison chili, venison spaghetti sauce, venison lasagna, a venison version of pasta a’ fagioli, and Johnny Marzetti with ground venison.

Do you or Tony have any other venison recipes that I could surprise my husband with?

Dear Tammy Jo:
Just about any ground beef recipe can be made with ground venison. I have made ground venison gravy over mashed potatoes, hamburger goulash and shepherd’s pie.

I request Tony’s deer be butchered into ground meat and an abundance of roasts. I use the latter in spicy recipes – for example, I rub a roast with Mexican spices and cook it in a slow cooker, then shred it with forks and use it as a stuffing for burritos. Last year I also cubed a roast and turned into classic goulash, which I provided a recipe for (made with beef) in my newsletter. You can access it by clicking here.

I am less inclined to cook venison steaks but when I do, I make a fruity wine sauce with the pan drippings to pour over the meat. Another good idea for venison steaks is to marinate them. This is a great time to try bulgogi, Korean marinated and grilled strips of meat. Use any venison steak and cut it into strips and marinate several hours or overnight. Grill (or pan grill) the strips and serve with rice at an Olympic-watching evening.

This recipe was given to me years ago by Jong Mi Edinger of Hudson. I am also including her recipe for a spicy salad to round out the meal.

BULGOGI

• 1 lb. flank steak (or venison steak – any cut)
• 5 tbsp. soy sauce
• 3 tbsp. sugar
• 3 tbsp. Oriental sesame oil
• 1/2 tsp. black pepper
• 2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
• 1 tbsp. pressed garlic
• 1 green onion, minced
• 2 tbsp. white wine
• 1 medium onion
• 1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled

Cut the meat across the grain into 1/8-inch-thick strips. Combine all remaining ingredients except the medium onion and head of garlic. Mix well and pour over meat strips. Cover and refrigerate one to two hours (or overnight if using venison).

Meanwhile, cut onion in half lengthwise, then slice halves horizontally. Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal or gas grill, and cover grill with a fine-mesh screen. Remove meat from marinade and place on screen with sliced onion and whole garlic cloves. Grill until beef is cooked through but still moist. Serve with the onions and garlic cloves and, if desired, cooked white rice. Serves three to four.

SPICY SALAD

• 1 head leaf lettuce
• 3 tbsp. soy sauce
• 1 tbsp. sesame oil
• 1/4 tsp. sesame seeds
• 1/4 tsp. sugar
• 1/4 tsp. black pepper
• 1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
• 1 tsp. (or to taste) crushed red pepper flakes

Wash and dry lettuce. Tear into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl. In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Pour over lettuce and toss. Serves four.

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February 7, 2018

Dear friends,

I didn’t get to taste the swamp cabbage but I did snag one of the last pieces of sour orange pie at the Lakeport, Fla., Sour Orange Festival last weekend. The shindig’s logo was an orange, making a puckery-angry face. How could I pass up such a unique food event just a 15-minute drive from our campground?

Things were well underway when we parked in a tufted and rutted pasture with about 20 other vehicles. Apparently the festival was not a hot ticket beyond Lakeport, a sun-baked crossroads of 7,500 residents.

A dozen or so knocked-together booths selling crafts, fried alligator, boiled swamp cabbage and the like were set up in a grove of live oaks. A trio played country-western music on a scuffed stage attached to the community building, where all the sour orange action took place.

This was the 26th year for the festival and its centerpiece, the Sour Orange Bake-Off, said organizer Dorri Evans. A moist coconut cake filled with sour orange curd won this year’s contest, which had just two entries, Dorri said with a rueful shake of her head. “We usually get twelve to fifteen.”

Dorri and her committee were on track to sell out of sour orange pie, as usual, though. In the weeks leading up to the festival the women juiced three 55-gallon drums of sour oranges picked from local trees, which grow wild in the area. The trees, brought here by Spanish colonizers, used to grow all over Florida. They were the root stock for Florida’s sweet-orange industry. Sour oranges are a staple of Cuban cooking and the cooking of Lakeport, where women turn the juice they squeeze into creamy frozen pies that taste like a Creme-sickle.

Tony and I shared a slice and got the recipe from Dorri. Sour orange juice is hard to find outside Latin American and Mexican food stores. Half lime juice and half orange juice may be substituted. Dorri gave me a sour orange before I left. It tastes citrusy but not orange-like. It is pleasantly sour, not lemon or lime sour. I like the flavor and am sorry I won’t be able to find the fruit in stores.

I’m even more sorry I won’t be around for the swamp cabbage festival in nearby Belle Glade later this month. I learned that what old Floridians call “swamp cabbage” is what we call “hearts of palm,” a gourmet item that costs a fortune when you can find it in cans.

Stubby palm trunks were heaped beside a chain saw in the pickup bed of one orange festival purveyor, who said the classic swamp cabbage preparation is boiled with vinegar, although it can be used for fritters and in salads, too. The main ingredient is from the sabal palm (elsewhere coconut and other palms are used, too). “Unfortunately, you have to kill the tree,’’ the purveyor lamented. “I think it’s the state tree of Florida.’’

 

FESTIVAL’S FAMOUS SOUR ORANGE PIES

Image 

• 3 cans (14 oz. each) sweetened condensed milk
• 2 tubs (8 oz. each) frozen whipped topping, thawed
• 2 cups sour orange juice (or 1 cup lime juice and 1 cup regular orange juice)
• 3  8- or 9-inch graham cracker pie crusts

Combine milk, topping and juice and beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Pour over graham crusts. Place in freezer until very firm, preferably overnight. (Wrap with plastic after filling firms up.) Let pies soften slightly at room temperature before cutting into wedges. Makes 3 pies.

Jane’s notes: * To make one pie, use 1 can milk, 2/3 tubs topping, 2/3 cup juice and 1 pie shell.
* Just before serving, decorate pie(s) with whipped topping and orange slices if desired.

GUT CHECKWhat I ate in restaurants week:


Half of a bagel-egg sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts; a fish sandwich (probably tilapia) with fries and coleslaw at the Tin Fish in Okeechobee, Fla.; boneless ribeye steak, baked potato and iceberg lettuce salad with blue cheese dressing at the Brahma Bull Restaurant near Okeechobee; a tower of marinated raw tuna, avocado chunks, diced cucumber, crab cream cheese and pickled ginger with salmon roe and wasabi cream and eel sauces at 12A Buoy in Ft. Pierce; sugar-free Dilly Bar from Dairy Queen; and a practically flavor-free ham and pineapple pizza from Domino’s (my first from the chain).

What I cooked last week:
Nothing. Tony, however, made delicious grilled hot dogs on top-sliced buns with mustard, chili, grilled hot peppers and chopped onions. Yum.

THE MAILBAGFrom M.P:

Wanted to let you know that Siamone Fryer (Siamone’s in the Gala Plaza on Waterloo Road) has opened in her new location in the Brimfield Plaza. I was so glad to hear, and anxious to have her delicious Malay curry.

Dear M.P.:
That is good news. I like her food, too. The restaurant’s Facebook page, under Thai Monies, lists hours of 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at 4112 Brimfield Plaza, State Route 43, in Kent. Phone 1-330-474-7588.


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January 31, 2018

Dear friends,

The worst part of Tony’s bad cold is what it did to my Cuban food fest. Oh, sure, I have been coddling and catering to him. But he still is in no mood to travel, and the closest Cuban restaurant is 45 minutes away from our campground in Okeechobee, Fla.

That’s what compelled me to make Cuban sandwiches Sunday for just the second or third time in my life. I had to have one, preferably a clone of the fabulous Cuban I got earlier in the week at Vicky Bakery near Miami. It was the only bright spot in a god-awful, traffic-snarled 10-hour drive to Key Largo and back that Tony insisting on taking.

Most Cuban sandwiches are pressed and contain roast pork, ham and melted cheese, but from there the details get hazy. Variations abound. Vicky’s Cuban had the requisite mustard and dill pickle chips, but it had two kinds of cheese and the filling seemed slightly creamy, as if it had been kissed by mayo. The Cuban bakery, of course, also made the Cuban bread that was the backbone of the sandwich.

I started my quest for the perfect Cuban with a 3-pound pork roast, a bottle of mojo criollo marinade and a jar of sliced olives. The olives were left from last week’s fling with Cuban picadillo and I thought, what the heck, I’ll dump them in the slow cooker with the pork roast and criollo sauce.

Wow. The olives tanged up the already-tangy sour orange-garlic criollo to liftoff proportions. The resulting pork roast was spectacular, with practically no work on my part. If you want to make authentic Cuban roast pork from scratch, as I did last February,  you can find the recipe by clicking on February 2017 in the Archived newsletters to the right, and scroll for the February 16 newsletter.

But if you don’t feel like cooking or have minuscule kitchen space, as I do in my camper, you won’t be disappointed with the olive slow-cooker version. Criollo sauce can be found in the ethnic food aisle of many supermarkets, or visit a Latin market.

I bought Cuban bread for my sandwich at a local supermarket, but I won’t be that lucky when I get back to Ohio. I have made Cuban bread in the past, but a good substitute for those who don’t want to turn a sandwich into a project would be any non-sliced, soft artisan-type loaf — not, for example, a French baguette or ciabatta. The loaf should be long, fairly low, and about 4 inches wide.

Except for the roast pork, the meats and cheeses for the sandwich should be bought at a full-service deli counter. Ask that they be sliced one-eighth-inch thick. The cooked pork roast should be sliced slightly thicker at home. It is easier to slice if it is made a day in advance and chilled.

Tony thought my Cuban sandwich was better than Vicky’s. He has a bad cold, of course, but even I thought the sandwich tasted like an authentic Cuban. I will make it often when we return to the vast Cuban wasteland of Ohio.

JANE’S SEMI-EASY CUBAN SANDWICH

Roast pork with olives (recipe follows)

• 1 to 2 loaves unsliced non-crusty artisan bread about 4 inches wide and 2 inches high
• 2 tsp. yellow mustard
• 4 large slices (1/8-inch thick) jack cheese, or enough to cover 12 inches of the bread
• 4 slices (1/8-inch thick) ham
• 4 slices (1/8-inch thick) Colby cheese
• Dill pickle chips
• 2 tsp. mayonnaise
• 2 tbsp. butter

Make the pork a day in advance if possible and chill. Trim fat and cut into slices between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. Set aside.

Cut the loaf (loaves) of bread into two 12-inch-long pieces, or long enough to fit into your largest skillet. Cut each piece in half horizontally. Spread each bottom half with mustard and top evenly with Jack cheese. The cheese should cover the bread in one layer. Top with enough pork roast to just cover the bread. Top with ham, then Colby cheese, then a layer of dill pickle chips. Spread one teaspoon of mayonnaise on the cut surface of each top piece of bread. Place on top of the fillings to form two sandwiches.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Place one of the sandwiches in the skillet and weight down with another, slightly smaller skillet filled with canned goods. The idea is to press the sandwich. Cook until the bottom starts to brown and the bottom piece of cheese starts to melt.

Remove sandwich from skillet and melt another tablespoon of butter. Return sandwich to skillet, flipped over, and weight as before. Cook until golden brown. Remove from skillet and slice cater-corner into two large triangles. Repeat with remaining sandwich. Serve immediately.

MOJO-CRIOLLO CROCK POT PORK WITH OLIVES

• 1/2 of a large onion, sliced
• 1 pork shoulder roast, about 3 lbs.
• 1 bottle mojo criollo marinade, about 20 oz., or enough to come halfway up sides of roast
• 1 jar sliced green olives in brine (about 1 1/2 cups with liquid)

Spread onion slices in the bottom of a slow cooker. Place pork roast on the onion slices. Pour the mojo criollo marinade around the roast. Dump the olives (with juice) over the roast. Cover and cook on high power for about 6 hours or until tender but not falling apart, turning roast twice.

GUT CHECK

What I ate out last week:

Grilled chicken breast, cottage cheese and fruit from Pogey’s Restaurant in Okeechobee, Fla.; Cuban sandwich, empanada from Vicky Bakery in Miami, Fla.; cheeseburger from McDonald’s; egg McMuffin from McDonald’s; Vietnamese egg roll, grilled pork banh mi from Saigon Restaurant in Okeechobee; a cake doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts.

What I cooked last week:
Criollo mojo-marinated Cuban pork with olives in the slow cooker; Cuban sandwiches; shrimp with garlic-lemon butter sauce and cilantro.

Shrimp with garlic-lem butter sauce and cilantro


Food moment of the week:

While bobbing in a pool ringed with palm trees —
Tony: Why aren’t there any coconuts?
Me: Because those are cabbage palms.
Tony: Wow! Really??

THE MAILBAG

From Cheryl S.:
A lot of recipes call for bay leaves, which don’t seem to do much flavoring. For brothy soups, I’ve had luck by breaking up the leaves and putting them in a screen tea ball and hanging it in the pot, which I’m not inclined to do with pasta sauce, etc. I was thinking of buying a bay laurel this spring and wonder if there is a difference when using fresh bay leaf instead of dried.

Also, I remember you moved your rosemary plant indoors to your unheated porch with lots of windows. How did that work out? Mine always die within a couple of months of moving them indoors, whether in direct or indirect sunlight.

Dear Cheryl:
My rosemary always died indoors, too, which is why I started wintering the bushes in our mud room. The first year, the rosemary survived the winter. The second winter, when temperatures dropped below zero and stayed there for a while, the bush died. I gave up for a few years and just replanted rosemary every summer. I’m trying to over-winter my third bush this year.

For years I, too, spurned bay leaves. The aroma and flavor of dried leaves seemed so faint that I left them out of many recipes. Then I tasted a blanc mange flavored only with fresh bay leaves. The flavor was haunting. Later, a friend gave me a few leaves from her live plant and I used them in various dishes as they dried. Since then, I have exchanged old for new dried leaves regularly and use them when called for, trusting that they provide an undercurrent of flavor. Each winter I vow to hunt down a live bay bush in the spring, but haven’t so far. If you find one, let me know. Like rosemary, it must be brought inside for the winter.

From S.H.:
I will surely try your picadillo (from last week’s newsletter); but when I checked over your photo of the plate (of food), I could see the picadillo, the rice and what was the other yellow food?

Dear S.H.:
Those are yuca fries with garlic sauce. They have a texture similar to potato. The flavor is mild. I am obsessed with fried yuca. Yuca is also known as “cassava.”

From Noreen Stone:
There is a man in Port Clinton who sets up a food truck in the summer at 480 SE Catawba Road and sells Cuban sandwiches. He used to have a small restaurant in Marblehead which I miss greatly. He would whip up great vegetarian options for us. Oh, and if you’re nice to him, he’ll sing a bit of Elvis for you. He is also an Elvis impersonator.

Dear Noreen:
How can you lose with a one-two hit like that? Elvis and Cuban sandwiches?! I’m in love.

Please note: If your email address changes, you must re-subscribe to my newsletter in order to continue receiving it. We are unable to change the address for you in our email list. The procedure is easy. Just click on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of a newsletter. Then click here to sign up under your new address. Thank you.